What Are The Chances?!!

Jeanne Calment was in her late 80s. Her husband had already passed away twenty years back. Her only daughter, Yvonne, had died much earlier at a relatively young age. Yvonne’s son, Frédéric, was raised by Jeanne herself. Unfortunately, like his mother, Frédéric too had a premature demise when he was killed in an automobile accident at a young age of 36.

All her life Jeanne had lived in Arles, France and had no wish to leave the place in her final years. However, living alone with no source of income, it was hard to support herself.

That’s when a forty-seven-year-old lawyer named André-François Raffray offered a deal to the old lady.

At age ninety and with no heirs, Jeanne agreed to sell her apartment to Raffray for the price of a low monthly subsistence payment of 2,500 francs. The contract said that the payments would stop upon her death, at which point she would be carried out and Raffray could move in.

Jeanne would thus have an ongoing source of cash to live on in her last years, and the lawyer would get an apartment cheaply, with no money down, in return for accepting the uncertainty as to when he would take possession.

If you were in Jeanne’s place, would you do that deal? I guess most people would be satisfied with the terms of such a contract.

Would you do the deal if you were Raffray? Well, Raffray wasn’t rich. His offer to Jeanne wasn’t motivated by only charity in mind. Raffray figured that it was a reasonable bet.

The ninety-year-old French woman had already exceeded the French life expectancy by more than ten years. She could die any day. He was probably making arrangements for his own retirement.

The deal seemed mutually advantageous.

In 1975, ten years after the deal, Jeanne Calment celebrated her 100th birthday in good health. While the astonished attorney kept wondering where did he go wrong in his calculations, Ms. Calment continued her life comfortably. As another decade went by, Raffray turned sixty-seven and Jeanne qualified as supercentenarian (a term for those who go past the age of 110).

It took another decade for the attorney’s long wait came to an end. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the end he expected. In 1995, after making payments for more than 30 years, André-François Raffray died of cancer while Jeanne Calment lived on. At age 114 she even appeared briefly in the 1990 film Vincent and Me as herself, becoming the oldest actress ever to appear in a motion picture.

Raffary’s family inherited the agreement, i.e., they would be in line to get the apartment, but in order to do so they would have to assume the original deal, continuing the monthly payments until she died.

Jeanne Louise Calment turned out to be the biggest outlier in human history. She holds the record for the longest confirmed human lifespan. In 1995, a documentary film entitled Beyond 120 Years with Jeanne Calment, was made about her life.

Jeanne’s day of reckoning finally came on August 4, 1997, at the age of 122. Her age at death exceeded the lawyer’s age at this death by forty-five years!

Jeanne Louise Calment

I found this story in Bart Holland’s brilliant book What Are the Chances? Holland writes –

Obviously it turned out that this was not a good way for the lawyer to obtain an apartment “on the cheap”; in fact, he never occupied it. However, his expectation that it was a good deal was a reasonable one, based as it was on typical human life spans. He had no way of knowing that the woman with whom he has struck the deal would have such an exceptionally long life—indeed, the longest well-documented lifespan on record at that time. Nor did she have any way of anticipating her own longevity, although she did feel that the abundance of olive oil in her diet—and her moderate drinking of port—could have salutary effects (an opinion that most epidemiologists would agree with today).

In 1789, in his letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy, Benjamin Franklin said, “In this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.”

Raffery bet on supposedly the certain thing, i.e., death of an extremely old woman. So where did the smart lawyer go wrong in his bet?

When he struck the deal, he observed that Jeanne had already lived ten years more than what French life expectancy tables predicted. But he didn’t know that the relevant issue was not whether she should be expected to die in minus ten years but that her life expectancy, given that she had already made it to ninety, was about six more years. Even when Ms. Calment reached 100, her life expectancy was still two more years. He probably had never heard of Bayes’s theory. But that was only a small part of his miscalculation.

Individual lifespans are unpredictable, but when data are collected from groups and analyzed en masse, regular patterns emerge.

His blunder was in taking the statistics and applying it to a sample size of one. He tried to play a game similar to life insurance business. But unlike the unlucky lawyer, the insurance company does not bet on one life but on millions.

The second mistake was that he agreed to a deal where the worst case could (and it did) cost him a significant portion of his net worth. He ended up paying Calment the equivalent of €140,000. That was more than double the apartment’s value.

Statistically, the deal was a very attractive bet for Raffary. However, statistics by definition apply to a group. Bigger the sample size, higher is the statistical significance of the pattern observed.

Ideally, he should have done few more such deals with a couple of more 90-year olds. But by putting all his money on an almost-sure-shot bet, he made the biggest financial mistake of his life.

Legendary investor, Howard Marks relates a funny story his father told him about a gambler who bet everything on a race with only one horse in it. How could he lose? “Halfway around the track, the horse jumped over the fence and ran away. Invariably things can get worse than people expect.”

Jeanne and Raffray’s story has a valuable lesson for investors.

Never bet the farm on a single stock no matter how certain you are about the outcome. You never know when the luck hands you the equivalent of a crazy horse or a supercentenarian.

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A Darden Professor’s Guide to Creating ‘Cool’

Lalin Anik - Cool
(Illustration by Alex Angelich, University Communications)

James Bond sipping a martini.

Beyoncé dropping her latest album and creating an internet sensation.

A young hipster grabbing cold brew coffee from the corner shop or scouring the internet for the perfect pair of shoes.

All of these are examples of the power of “cool” – that indescribable mystique that holds so much cultural capital. Most people, and nearly every brand, want to be cool. But how do they get there?

University of Virginia Darden School of Business professor Lalin Anik can help.

Anik, whose research focuses on marketing and consumer behavior, wanted to understand more about what makes a product cool and how brands capitalize on that. Along with Darden graduate Johnny Miles and Ryan Hauser, an MBA candidate at the Yale School of Management, she authored an article, “A General Theory of Coolness,” and a case study on the topic, both through Darden Business Publishing.

The case study, in fact, centers on Mr. Bond and a partnership with Heineken that swapped the superspy’s signature martini for the Dutch beer in the 2012 franchise film, “Skyfall.”

“James Bond could be seen as an archetype of cool,” Anik said. “I was curious about how characters or brands like that create coolness, and if a partnership with Heineken – which does not really fit the Bond image – could change that.”

The Heineken partnership does not appear to have hurt “Skyfall” too much. It hit more than $1 billion in global ticket sales and was one of the highest-grossing films in the history of Sony Pictures. But it gave Anik, Miles and Hauser plenty to think about.

Anik explains more below.

Q. What defines coolness?
A. We identified three traits that are indispensable to coolness: autonomy, authenticity and attitude. Autonomy, arguably the most important dimension of coolness, refers to a lack of conformity or conventionality – being seen as independent or rebellious. Authenticity is simply being seen as true to one’s personality or, in the case of a brand, true to a mission or purpose. Attitude refers to that catch-22 of being cool without seeming as though you are trying to be cool. This is a challenging one for brands.

Finally, a fourth trait – association – is not essential to coolness, but it’s certainly helpful. That refers to association with a particularly cool brand, place or person – such as a celebrity spokesperson.

Q. What are some pitfalls companies or brands might encounter when they are trying to be cool?
A. There are certain norms that consumers see as illegitimate, and breaking those norms can work in a company’s favor. Breaking more legitimate norms, on the other hand, is less helpful.

Virgin Airlines is a good example of this. They broke away from the normally strict, businesslike tone of airline messaging by being animated and funny, while staying squarely within safety regulations and other norms that consumers are understandably concerned about.

In order to work, the product needs to be at least as functional as the mainstream norm. For example, spherical water bottles might seem cool, but they are impractical to hold and carry. We don’t need our Q-tips, Band-Aids or table salt to be “cool” – we just need those products to function well.

Additionally, brands should avoid excessively threatening consumer identity. Products that diverge too much from the norm could be seen as too embarrassing or rebellious. Possible examples include Romphim, a company selling one-piece rompers for men; Redneck Boot Sandals, which combine flip flops and cowboy boots; or Topshop’s clear plastic jeans. These types of cringe-worthy products that are wildly but unnecessarily creative remind us that not all marketing is good marketing.

Q. What are some examples of companies or brands that have managed to achieve and maintain coolness?
A. Adidas is one of those iconic brands that has all of the ingredients to maintain its cool over time. They are placing their stripes on world-class athletes while also instilling the consumer with nostalgia. Their Originals heritage line appeals to both Baby Boomers and vintage-loving hipsters.

There are other brands that are perceived to be cool because they operate in product and cultural categories that are appealing by nature, such as social media – i.e. Facebook and YouTube; technology – i.e. GoPro or Playstation; and athletics – i.e. Vans or Converse. The challenge these brands face is keeping up with ever-changing trends and fads while still being perceived as autonomous, authentic and having an attitude.

James Bond, of course, is an example of a franchise that is seen as perennially cool. Even the partnership with Heineken, which some derided, ultimately did not hurt Bond’s brand, and provided a boost for Heineken, thanks to that fourth factor of coolness – association.

Q. You cite Starbucks as one example in your article. What can Starbucks tell us about coolness?
A. It’s important to understand that coolness can change. That’s the tough thing about it for companies – it’s ephemeral and dependent on new generations and on what is happening in the world.

When it started, Starbucks really taught people how to drink coffee and created this whole culture around the ritual of getting your morning coffee. Then, other brands jumped onto that bandwagon. Starbucks, once perceived as original, became mainstream. Now, it’s cool not to buy Starbucks, and many people are choosing local or niche brands instead.

Q. What are some examples of brands that have failed in the pursuit of cool?
A. The clothing company Hollister Co. suffered from a failure of authenticity in 2005, when they had to pay damages to surfer Rob Havassy after using more than 300 knockoffs of his signed boards to decorate their stores. They were trying to claim the coolness of surfing culture, but were ultimately called out and criticized as deceitful and inauthentic.

More recently, Domino’s “4 Realz” campaign, where numb3rs replaced l3tt3rs, Chevrolet’s press release made up of emojis, and TXT Cellar Wines’ wines with Gen Y-inspired names like “LOL!!! Reisling” are all examples of brands pandering to what they see as millennial language. These moves are often seen as forced or inauthentic, and millennials – who have grown up with the internet – are quick to spot this and reject it.

– by Lalin Anik (Professor at University of Virginia Darden School of Business)

Originally at https://news.virginia.edu/content/qa-darden-professors-guide-creating-cool

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What makes Marwaris so successful in business?

Marwaris

According to Thomas A Timberg’s book, The Marwaris: From Jagath Seth to the Birlas, there are seven secrets of Marwari businessmen which are still valid “and perhaps will remain so”.


1. Watch the money

Marwaris

There are two key functions performed by the Marwari business firms and business groups – strategic management of investment funds by moving them to where they are most productive in the long term and close financial monitoring of the enterprises in which they have a share.

It is perhaps the changes in Harsh Goenka and Kumar Mangalam Birla’s business styles that point to a dilution of finance-centric strategies in present times.


2. Delegate but monitor

Marwaris

Successful business have to learn how to delegate, otherwise the span of economic activity can engage in will be limited.

They also have to know when to intervene, fully aware that a decision to intervene is costly. Usually it is easier to replace an unsatisfactory executive rather than turn him around. Ineffectual executives and family members are gently moved out to cushy and uncritical positions.


3. Plan, but have a style and a system

Marwaris

This is somewhat ambiguous as we clearly see a transition from an intuitive style to a more systematic one. However, this may be, as some suggest, a product of the transition from business founders to inheritors.


4. Lead to expand and do not let the system inhibit growth

Marwaris

A key characteristic of successful businessmen is a drive to expand. Many forms have expansion in their mission statements but few implement it.


5. The right corporate culture

Marwaris

The firm or group must have a style which befits its market and the times. Changes or adjustments constitute one of the most difficult tasks.

Corporate culture in a firm is critical in inspiring loyalty, especially of competent managers. Financial incentives can go only thus far, and are sometimes counterproductive.


6. Don’t get blown away by fads

Marwaris

The shelf life of half the management fads is six months. Professors, including those from business schools, devise striking and attractive theories which bear no responsibility for success.

A responsible manager has to be more tentative and experimental in his approach. As any school debater knows, there are usually at least two sides to any question, even multiple sides as in the Anekantavada of Jain logic. The problem is to decide which is right in a given situation.


7. Do not miss new developments

Marwaris

Some businesses describe themselves as ‘knowledge businesses’. As a matter of fact, all are. The world’s oldest family businesses have had some very successful ventures and a lot of failed ones because of missed opportunities.

Originally at http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/slideshows/management-leaders/7-secrets-that-makes-marwaris-so-good-in-business/what-makes-marwaris-so-successful-in-business/slideshow/55223494.cms

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